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Syllabus FAQ

Am I required to provide my students with a course syllabus?

What am I required to include in my course syllabi*?

What other information should be included in a course syllabus?

What should I include on my syllabus if I choose to use Turnitin in my class?

What university policies or procedures should I consider including in my syllabus?

Am I required to include directions for responding to on-campus emergencies in my course syllabus?

What are my options for attendance and excused absences?

Can I distribute my course syllabus only online?

Once I distribute my course syllabus, can I change it?

Is the course syllabus considered a "contract" between my students and me?

Where can I go for more detailed information on what to include on my course syllabus?

What should I say about appropriate and inappropriate collaboration on my syllabus?

Am I required to provide my students with a course syllabus?

Yes, MSU instructors are required to distribute a course syllabus, either in print or online, to their students at the beginning of the semester. (See the  Code of Teaching Responsibility.)

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What am I required to include in my course syllabi*?

The Code of Teaching Responsibility minimally requires instructors to inform their students at the beginning of the semester of the following:

  1. Course content and instructional objectives, which must be consistent with the university-approved course description found in the MSU Descriptions of Courses catalog.
  2. Instructor contact information and office hours, with a provision for arranged office hours to accommodate students whose schedules conflict with the regularly-scheduled office hours office hours must comply with the minimum number of hours approved by each unit.
  3. Grading criteria and method used to determine final course grade.
  4. Date of final examination, scheduled according to the University final exam schedule, and tentative dates of required assignments, quizzes, and tests, if applicable.
  5. Attendance policy, if different from the University attendance policy and especially when the attendance policy affects students' grades.
  6. Required and recommended course materials, including textbooks and supplies.
  7. Any required proctoring arrangements to which students must adhere.

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What other information should be included in a course syllabus?

Instructors should consider including:

  • course number and title, section number (if applicable) and scheduled class time;
  • course Web site (if applicable);
  • instructor's (and TA's, if applicable) name, office address, phone number and e-mail address, with recommendations on which method of contact the instructor prefers;
  • tentative deadlines for required and recommended readings;
  • tentative schedule of course topics;
  • required field trips, rehearsals, etc., scheduled outside of regularly-scheduled class time, along with any accompanying fees and tickets;
  • make-up policy, if any, for designated course work;
  • tardy policy and its impact, if any, on grades;
  • common test dates for all sections of a multi-section course, as approved by the unit;
  • course prerequisites and restrictions, as they appear in the Descriptions of Courses catalog;
  • information about required course-management software, such as ANGEL or Desire 2 Learn;
  • any course procedures unique to the course that might cause students to reconsider their enrollment in the course; and
  • policy, if any, for acceptable use of cell phones, laptops, calculators and other electronic equipment in the classroom.

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What should I include on my syllabus if I choose to use Turnitin in my class?

If you choose to use Turnitin in your course, the following statements are strongly recommended to include in your syllabus:

Consistent with MSU's efforts to enhance student learning, foster honesty, and maintain integrity in our academic processes, I have chosen to use a tool called Turnitin to compare your papers with multiple sources.  The tool will compare each paper you submit to an extensive database of prior publications and papers, providing links to possible matches and a 'similarity score.'  The tool does not determine whether plagiarism has occurred or not.  Instead, I will make a complete assessment and judge the originality of your work.  All submissions to this course may be checked using this tool.

You should submit papers to Turnitin Dropboxes without identifying information included in the paper (e.g., name or student number), the [ANGEL or Desire 2 Learn] system will automatically show this information to me when I view the submission, but the information will not be retained by Turnitin.  If you forget and submit your paper with your identifying information on it, it will be retained in the Turnitin repository.

(To inform students about the retention option you have chosen, include one of the following:)

  1. "Your submissions will be retained in the Global Turnitin repository."
  2. "Your submissions will be retained only in the MSU repository hosted by Turnitin."
  3. "Your submissions will not be retained beyond the initial comparison."

In choosing to use Turnitin in our class, I have agreed to follow five guidelines.  They are:

  1. I will use Turnitin as part of a balanced approach to encourage academic integrity and foster student success.
  2. I will openly disclose use of Turnitin in this course on the syllabus and at the time assignments are announced.
  3. For a given assignment, I will use Turnitin for all papers.
  4. I will make the final determination of originality and integrity.
  5. To ensure privacy, I will ask students to remove identification (e.g., names and student numbers) from submissions.

If you have any questions about the use of Turnitin in this course, please bring them to my attention.

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What university policies or procedures should I consider including in my syllabus?

Consider including any of these statements:

1.  Academic Honesty: Article 2.3.3 of the Academic Freedom Report states that "The student shares with the faculty the responsibility for maintaining the integrity of scholarship, grades, and professional standards." In addition, the (insert name of unit offering course) adheres to the policies on academic honesty as specified in General Student Regulations 1.0, Protection of Scholarship and Grades; the all-University Policy on Integrity of Scholarship and Grades; and Ordinance 17.00, Examinations. (See Spartan Life: Student Handbook and Resource Guide and/or the MSU Web site: www.msu.edu.)
Therefore, unless authorized by your instructor, you are expected to complete all course assignments, including homework, lab work, quizzes, tests and exams, without assistance from any source. You are expected to develop original work for this course; therefore, you may not submit course work you completed for another course to satisfy the requirements for this course. Also, you are not authorized to use the www.allmsu.com Web site to complete any course work in this course. Students who violate MSU academic integrity rules may receive a penalty grade, including a failing grade on the assignment or in the course. Contact your instructor if you are unsure about the appropriateness of your course work. (See also the Academic Integrity webpage.)

2.  Limits to confidentiality.  Essays, journals, and other materials submitted for this class are generally considered confidential pursuant to the University's student record policies.  However, students should be aware that University employees, including instructors, may not be able to maintain confidentiality when it conflicts with their responsibility to report certain issues to protect the health and safety of MSU community members and others.  As the instructor, I must report the following information to other University offices (including the Department of Police and Public Safety) if you share it with me:

--Suspected child abuse/neglect, even if this maltreatment happened when you were a child,

--Allegations of sexual assault or sexual harassment when they involve MSU students, faculty, or staff, and

--Credible threats of harm to oneself or to others.

These reports may trigger contact from a campus official who will want to talk with you about the incident that you have shared.  In almost all cases, it will be your decision whether you wish to speak with that individual.  If you would like to talk about these events in a more confidential setting you are encouraged to make an appointment with the MSU Counseling Center.

3.  Accommodations for Students with Disabilities (from the Resource Center for Persons with Disabilities (RCPD): Michigan State University is committed to providing equal opportunity for participation in all programs, services and activities. Requests for accommodations by persons with disabilities may be made by contacting the Resource Center for Persons with Disabilities at 517-884-RCPD or on the web at rcpd.msu.edu. Once your eligibility for an accommodation has been determined, you will be issued a Verified Individual Services Accommodation ("VISA") form. Please present this form to me at the start of the term and/or two weeks prior to the accommodation date (test, project, etc.). Requests received after this date may not be honored.

4.  Drops and Adds: The last day to add this course is the end of the first week of classes. The last day to drop this course with a 100 percent refund and no grade reported is (insert date). The last day to drop this course with no refund and no grade reported is (insert date). You should immediately make a copy of your amended schedule to verify you have added or dropped this course.

5.  Commercialized Lecture Notes: Commercialization of lecture notes and university-provided course materials is [permitted] [not permitted] in this course.*

7.  Internet: Some professional journals will not consider a submission for publication if the article has appeared on the Internet. Please notify your instructor in writing if you do not want your course papers posted to the course Web site.

8.  Disruptive Behavior: Article 2.III.B.4 of the Academic Freedom Report (AFR) for students at Michigan State University states: "The student's behavior in the classroom shall be conducive to the teaching and learning process for all concerned." Article 2.III.B.10 of the AFR states that "The student has a right to scholarly relationships with faculty based on mutual trust and civility." General Student Regulation 5.02 states: "No student shall . . . interfere with the functions and services of the University (for example, but not limited to, classes . . .) such that the function or service is obstructed or disrupted. Students whose conduct adversely affects the learning environment in this classroom may be subject to disciplinary action through the Student Judicial Affairs office.

9.  Attendance: Students whose names do not appear on the official class list for this course may not attend this class. Students who fail to attend the first four class sessions or class by the fifth day of the semester, whichever occurs first, may be dropped from the course.

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Am I required to include directions for responding to on-campus emergencies in my course syllabus?

While instructors are not required to include this information in their course syllabi, they should review emergency classroom responses to campus violence or natural disasters with their students at the beginning of the semester.  For details, see http://www.police.msu.edu/actionplans.asp.  Also, consider adding the following to your course syllabi:

Campus Emergencies--

If an emergency arises in this classroom, building or vicinity, your instructor will inform you of actions to follow to enhance your safety.  As a student in this class, you are responsible for knowing the location of the nearest emergency evacuation route or shelter.  These directions appear on the maps posted on the walls throughout this building.  If police or university officials order us to evacuate the classroom or building, follow the posted emergency route in an orderly manner and assist those who might need help in reaching a barrier-free exit or shelter. To receive emergency messages, set your cellular phones on silent mode when you enter this classroom.  If you observe or receive an emergency alert, immediately and calmly inform your instructor.  (See also www.alert.msu.edu.)

(Adopted from "Handling Emergency Situations," by F/Lt Penny Fisher, MSU Department of Public Safety.)

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What are my options for attendance and excused absences?

For details, see Attendance on the Ombudsperson's Web site. This site includes discussion of student observance of major religious holidays, student-athlete participation in athletic competition, student participation in university-approved field trips, medical excuses and a dean's drop for students who fail to attend class sessions at the beginning of the semester.

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Can I distribute my course syllabus only online?

Yes and, again, it must be accessible to students at the beginning of the semester.

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Once I distribute my course syllabus, can I change it?

The Code of Teaching Responsibility does not address the issue of changing a course syllabi after the semester is underway. Absent such language, an instructor may choose to exercise that option. If they do, they should inform their students of changes in writing or online. Students often complain about instructors who change their syllabi, but only, of course, when they believe the changes hinder their performance in the course. After all, they argue, the syllabus is a factor in deciding to remain in the course. If changes follow, especially after the tuition-refund period, they contend they are stuck in a course they would have dropped.

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Is the course syllabus considered a "contract" between my students and me?

No, the course syllabus is not a legal contract. That said, it remains the instructor's responsibility to meet course expectations and follow course procedures announced at the beginning of the semester, per the Code of Teaching Responsibility, the AFR, the GSRR and the Faculty Handbook.

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Where can I go for more detailed information on what to include on my course syllabus?

The Faculty and Organizational Development Office has developed an MSU Syllabus Checklist which can be found at their site, as well as other resources for syllabus design.  This syllabus checklist is thorough and is an excellent resource for many instructors in creating a syllabus that follows the Code of Teaching Responsibility.

For the MSU Syllabus Checklist and other resources on syllabus design, please go here.

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What should I say about appropriate and inappropriate collaboration on my syllabus?

In many classes at MSU and throughout our students' prior educational experience, collaboration between classmates is encouraged.  In some classes it is required to succeed.  Group projects in which the work, the learning, and the grade are shared are not uncommon.  Study groups, homework groups, and other ways of asking for and offering help are common experiences.  Students having such an experience in one class may feel that they understand the location of the line between appropriate and inappropriate collaboration.  Yet, every year the Ombudsperson's office is visited by students who have strayed over the line and have been accused of academic misconduct because of inappropriate collaboration.  Often the students claim that they did not intend to cheat and they didn't think what they were doing was wrong.

In this age of social media and other forms of e-communication, it is easier than ever for students to collaborate.  In fact, these avenues are suggested by some instructors as an important adjunct to the lectures and textbooks.  Given that one instructor's collaboration is another instructor's cheating, it is very important for each student to understand and each instructor to be clear about what is permitted and what is unacceptable in each class.  The syllabus is an excellent place to begin this conversation, but it is also an important topic for class discussion.

Because the parameters of acceptable collaboration will change from instructor to instructor and from class to class, no boilerplate syllabus language is offered here.  Instead, we encourage each instructor to include in their syllabi explicit guidelines to help their students understand where the line is and how to stay on the right side of it.  We also encourage each student to ask about this information before they engage in collaborative behavior that could be considered cheating.

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*Note: The Code of Teaching Responsibility requires instructors who permit students to commercialize their class lecture notes to include a statement in their course syllabi that gives such permission. Absent such permission, students may not do so.

Questions? Contact the Ombudsperson